Friday, June 22, 2012

The second Greek elections, June the 17th, 2012.

It just happened this year for me to be in Greece during the last three weeks before the elections; for some, they were the most important and critical elections of the country's recent history. The importance of the elections, gave them a referendum feel. It was not just a decision on which party the Greeks wanted to lead the country, it was a decision that would have far more serious implications not just for Greece, but for the whole of Europe too.

With the Greek political elite divided in pro-austerity and anti-bail-out parties, the outcome of the elections meant a potential drastic change in the country's politics and Greece's relationship with its European partners. It was bankruptcy, humiliation, poverty and deprivation on one hand and salvation, stability, the country's reputation and recovery on the other.

While the New Democracy, PASOK and some smaller parties supported the idea that the best way for Greece to recover from the crisis was to stick with the austerity measures and do not upset the country's lenders, others had a different point of view. Syriza and other radical parties, both from the right and left suggested that Greece should scrap the austerity deal and renegotiate. The Greeks are generally pro-European and they do want to stay in the euro. but then why all the fuss? Was Syriza wrong to put a question on the bail-out deal? Or was it just "fishing" for the public's support, grabbing the opportunity to become more prominent in the Greek political life by exploiting the public's anger over the austerity measures imposed on them by Europe? 

European leaders reacted badly in Syriza's rise and attitude and they threatened to stop lending money to the country. A move that according to what they supported would be catastrophic for the country. Understandably the lenders always want to secure their investments. That is why they always try to create conditions that will favor a profitable return of their money invested.

Because make no mistake: that's what is all about. The European elites and bankers were speculating all those years and experimenting with a currency that had no central governance. Now that it all falls apart, they rush to secure their investments scapegoating some countries and throwing more debt on them. A debt that must be repaid thus creating a division in Europe; this of the lenders and borrowers. The second will always owe money to the first, and the first will make profit out of the loans. If there was a real European solidarity, the loans they offered to the crisis hit partners of theirs would be interest free. By adding interest on the loans, they also add more debt. How can anyone call this "help" and put conditions to it?

They demand from Greece to stick to the austerity program and do not throw away the "help" it receives from its partners. For this reason the Europeans were trying to convince the Greek people to vote back to power the parties who were the reason that Greece is in the state it is. How is this possible? Now that the Greeks eventually woke up and realized what was happening behind their backs and how they were deceived by their leaders, they want to get rid of them. But this time it is the Europeans who force them to vote the same parties back in power.

Doesn't all this sound absurd? Well no if you are aware of the SIEMENS scandal that rocked Greece a few years ago. The German company was pouring money into both big parties-PASOK/ND- in order to fund their electoral campaigns in exchange for a secured favor when it came in public work contracts, notably in the Olympic Games preparations. The Greek governments were giving SIEMENS most of the public contracts, and they were making money out of those deals receiving Greek public money. So while the German political elite that answers to Germany's industrial and financial elite now blame the “corrupt” Greeks, it was them who where on the other side of the equation, fleecing the Greek public from their money.

In other words, German and other European elites helped the establishment of the two big parties in Greece. Those parties who lied about the country's economy before Greece joined the eurozone; those parties who sold out every resource of the country to foreign multinationals, who never proceeded to necessary reforms in order to modernize Greece, who lied to the Greek people and abused money coming from European funds. Yes there is corruption in Greece, it is no lie; but perhaps this corruption persists because it serves the interests of certain powerful people?

From all the necessary reforms needed to modernize Greece and make it more competitive, very few were implemented. Yet the "Troika" and the Greek government impose salary and social benefit cuts, tax increases and public spending cuts. This is not the way to reform a country, this is the way to lead it to its knees. All we needed was to reform out outdated taxation system, reform and shrink our public sector, make our economy more competitive. Not to pour an immense amount of debt to our children and grand children.

During the daily marathon debates on the Greek television, I experienced scare-mongering tactics from both sides; very similar to what I have experience in Ireland during the Lisbon Treaty Referendum, only much worse. In almost every morning show, news show, late night chat-show, newspapers and magazines the discussions were about what would happened if the Europeans stop giving money to the country. How much we needed those money and what would happen if we returned to the drachma, if we went bankrupt and so on. To me that is the root of the problem; the notion that we need European money to exist and solve our problems is false. Europe needs Greece equally badly, but why this relationship is not taking place on equal terms?

News about the worse stricken groups of people by the crisis were always on the top of the agenda. The case of an eight year old kid fainting at school because he was eating just boiled pasta for a week, as his parents could not afford to feed him properly anymore. Any case of crisis related suicide, or the refusal of the pharmaceutical companies to import medicines in the country fearing that they will never be repaid, leaving Greece with no medicines. The worse case was the fact that cancer patients were obliged to pay for their chemotherapy, a very expensive treatment. In the current economic crisis with no jobs and no money, if you get cancer your cure depends on your wallet! Not the type of reforms I would have dreamed of for Greece or any EU state!

Other documentaries brought to our attention the cases of Argentina and Iceland, what happened in those countries and how the population coped. "A total chaos" many commentators were saying, while the economists mentioned the fact that the countries are not able yet to return to the Markets. Those documentaries described how the supermarkets were left empty, the savings of the people worth half or much less and how anarchy was established there. They described different scenarios, of the military closing the borders of Greece to stop people getting out of the country in the case of Greece leaving the euro-zone, to prevent people trying to exchange euro notes in other countries. Or that perhaps military tanks in the country's cities would patrol outside its banks, to prevent people from attacking and looting them; images that brought back memories from the junta days.

With all this propaganda, stressful and unnerving debates and information, is it any wonder that the New Democracy (N.D.) and the pro-austerity parties eventually won these elections? The Greek public wanted to get rid of the two big parties, the N.D. and PASOK, because they are solely responsible for the country's demise to their eyes. They almost managed to achieve such thing, until the interests of Europe thought otherwise. You see they were making good business with those two corrupt parties, so why accept a change in the status quo? Besides if the Syriza won the elections, every deal that the previous parties signed would be in jeopardy, thus the Europeans would be in danger of losing their investments in Greece.

So we had Mrs Merkel the German Chancelor, Mr Schauble-Germany's Finance Minister and Mrs Lagarde-Head of the IMF, daily on our national television threatening us and making suggestions. Mrs Lagarde even dared to proceed in vile comments against the Greek people, when she does not pay any taxes herself. From all the above it was clear that there was an agenda, but what was it?

The French Presidend Mr Hollande stated in a recent interview in MEGA Channel, a Greek TV station, “there are forces in Europe that they would love to see Greece out of the euro-zone; don’t make them the favor.”To me that translates as such: Greece is being used as a scapegoat for the euro-zone crisis, when all of Europe is to blame, notably the elites of the most powerful nations in it like Germany. If they had set up the euro-zone membership rules better and created a more functioning true financial union, not just a currency union, Europe would not be in this mess.

Their sins come to bite them back now and they want to find a quick solution to the problem, by kicking Greece out. They do not want to do what it must be done in this case, meaning a true fiscal union, the creation of the euro-bonds etc. They just want to bully the Greeks and some other states to pay for all the damage, or they are threatening them with expulsion of their "club." Have you watched how they pushed Spain into another bail-out , a “light” bail-out as they described it, because they did not involve the IMF this time. The Spaniards did show more courage to stand up for their people, but of course they had stronger cards to play: they are the euro-zone's fourth largest economy and they did not waste so much money as the Greek corrupt elite did. Though Germany still would like to see Spain in the arms of the IMF and more austerity as in Greece.

So had the Greeks any alternative choice? Not really! Syriza and its leader could not achieve all that they were promising. They do not have the experience and given the situation it would be very hard to find cards to negotiate. Unfortunately Greece is not like Iceland. We are in the EU and the euro-zone and that comes with certain obligations and benefits. Nevertheless Syriza could really shuffle some feathers and I am really glad they formed a strong opposition in the Greek Parliament. Not that I support them or their policies; I find them rather populist. But at least they heated up the debate and forced the other large parties to promise re-negotiation of the bail-out deal, in order to counterpart the public's support for Syriza. Because such renegotiation is needed, especially now that Spain has managed to avoid such harsh austerity in order to receive money from its partners. And we have a socialist French President that also promised to put an end to Merkel's austerity obsession.

Now will Greece's and Europe's leaders keep their promises?The Greeks swallowed the pill and believed what the European leaders were telling them to do, for "their own good". Now the ball is with them, to prove them right and do not disappoint them. The Greek people compromised, so what will the European leaders do to meet them half way? Will they start the recovery of Greece's economy with the growth stimulus and support that they promised to them? We are waiting!


No comments: